Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Islamic State casualties and scenarios

Defence Watch is reporting that coalition air strikes have killed 20 000 ISIS members, which means an unknown but likely high number of wounded. I don't think IS battlefield medicine is of a NATO standard, meaning that many of the killed would likely have survived in other circumstances. Still, 20 000 is a lot. To put in perspective, it's nearly half of the more than 50 000 US troops killed in the Vietnam/American War.

Yet IS remains, far less resourced than the Russians, US, and their allies. Still it is able to hold ground and sustain itself while the bombs fall, and the Russians and Americans squabble over strategy and air space and menace each other.

I suppose it's possible that the mix of efforts targeting IS (and related groups), however organisationally dysfunctional, will break its back in terms of its logistics and personnel, but I'm not sure that leaves anyone particularly better off. Afghanistan and Bushed Iraq both show that motivated armed groups are able to dissolve and wage a very persistent guerrilla war against any occupying force and any returning residents. The region will be very unsafe for the foreseeable future, perhaps indefinitely, regardless of whether IS remains intact and able to hold territory. The Assad regime or whatever replaces it will be busy for years to come, at least until climate driven drought destroys the water supply and food security of the region and the regime collapses into more violence. Displaced militants, especially those with foreign passports will flee and head to Saudi Arabia, Europe and elsewhere, creating more headaches for the security services in those places. Gulf states especially may be prone severe upset due to the large numbers of IS sympathisers in those places.

Any force that can sustain 20K dead and still hold ground isn't going to fold easily under more bombs. Maybe a solution rests less in dropping bombs, than in drying up the supply of food, fuel, arms and money that sustain IS and its mimics - basically ring-fencing Syria and Iraq, and making possible - where possible - the safe exit and relocation of refugees.  Nope, instead the US, Russia, Iran, et al will continue to shovel arms into the place and Europe will continue to shit itself over consequent refugee flows. If it continues long enough, Israel will get seriously involved and things will get even weirder.

In the post-9/11 era, none try to end wars. The powers that be used to do that, often through ham-fisted, bungling attempts, but the shooting stopped in the Balkans, Cyprus, Vietnam, and a host of other places.  Now instead they institutionalise multi-year bombing campaigns and low-intensity land-wars, which are just continuations of existing wars. War can now be waged below the public casuality tolerance threshold, making it easier to use military force as a normative policy tool against enemies that pose minimal material threat to Western forces.

I can tell you that if Russia or the US and its allies lost 20 000 troops to IS, they'd be using mach numbers to measure the pace of withdrawal. It continues because it's easy.


Purple library guy said...

The article says "according to U.S. officials who have briefed USA Today." Why should I believe those U.S. officials? When was the last time they said anything true, let alone anything true about a war? What are they going to say, especially now that the Russians appear to be doing the job they were probably carefully avoiding doing?

I can just imagine them telling USA Today, "Yeah, we actually hardly killed any of those dudes because we always hated Assad more than we minded ISIS. Come on, we trained some of those guys, and most of the rest were trained by our best buds--did anyone really think we'd get serious about bombing them?" Not going to happen, of course they're going to claim some huge figure. It's a meaningless article, it's like when the police say their dude was completely justified in blowing away that unarmed black man while he was on his face--maybe he wiggled in a threatening manner like they said, maybe he didn't, but you know they'd have said it whether he did or not, so there's no point reading their protestations.

e.a.f. said...

My interpretation of the article is, it is not so much about the figure, but about the whole war.

Now if purple guy thinks the figures aren't accurate, I'd suggest he go over and count. With all the bombing which has been going on, it would not be hard for 20K people to have been killed. We don't hear ISIS saying 20K weren't killed.

The point of the article as I read it is, that no matter how many are killed this war will go on until the last ISIS member is dead and that isn't going to happen any time soon.

There are still 18 Million people in Syria. Most of them would like to get out. With all the bombing going on, I'd suggest they move it to Russia, USA and any other country which is participating in the bombing. Even if a third of the people still in Syria decide to exit, Europe will be in an bad place. They simply could not absorb that many people, but really why should Russia, Canada, the U.S.A. care. Its a long way from their front door.

For those doing the bombing, it some times helps politicians to go to war somewhere else to take the citizens minds of the problems the country is having. Wars provide huge profits for armament firms, most of them who support politicians. war is sort of a make work project in some countries, an arena to test out new war equipment. War works for some countries. The Russians not wishing to be outdone by Iran, Canada, USA, have decided to join in.

Now of course should Benni in Israel decide to give it a go, in time for some election, things could be really interesting and that won't be a good thing. Benni isn't what you'd call a "balanced" type of guy.

Purple library guy said...

Putin's in it because he has important strategic considerations going on. Syria is Russia's only ally in the region, it is a pretty solid and long-time ally, it has the only Mediterranean port the Russian navy can use, and Syria + Iran + (Hezbollah in Lebanon) are all that block total US dominance of the Middle East and all its oil. Putin's position is and always has been that the government of Syria must not fall. It shouldn't surprise anyone that he is doing something about it.
Putin doesn't need war to distract from domestic problems for the simple reason that, although Russia is having economic difficulties, those have already been (fairly justifiably) blamed on the US and EU; Putin's approval ratings have been holding steady for ages in the 85% range. The West might not like him much, but in his own country he's got political capital coming out of his ears. He has no need to run foreign policy as domestic policy.

Look, if you're going to start believing official US sources on body counts, why don't you go ask Exxon about global warming? It's foolish to rely on information sources with a proven track record of lying in general and a strong motivation to lie in the current instance. There is no "point of the article" because it contains no information.

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